had a whole
row to myself, which,
in theory, can be nice—there would be no one
trying to steal my armrest or my foot space. And
I could get away with more whispering than usual.
Yet every time there is such a poor showing to classical
music events, my disappointment far outweighs the
elation of having so much libertine space. Nevertheless,
the Virtuoso Series concert at Libby Gardner Hall
on Jan. 23 proved to be the best of its season thus
far. Sparse attendance or not, pianist Christopher
O’Riley and the
New York Philharmonic’s principal cellist,
Carter Brey, rendered a stunning program of Russian
Why are so many classical music events attended so
poorly? Is it the inversion? Maybe it has to do with
the economy and people can’t afford tickets?
That can’t be true. People are willing to pay
the price for music and entertainment they love.
Maybe there is just too much classical music and
people have a hard time deciding which concert to
attend? Probably not. Along the expansive Wasatch
Front, there is only one radio station dedicated
to classical music programming (thanks for screwing
us over, KUER). It is a difficult task to really
come to grips with why there is a general disinterest
in classical music. And I can’t spend the time
trying to sort through all the means that have led
to this general antipathy toward this dying genre.
The composers of Russia didn’t really come
into their own until the late 19th century. The stronghold
of German and French romanticism pervaded all of
Europe. Even Tchaikovsky, who is one of the most
revered of Russian romantics, used German Romantic
literature to create the Nutcracker. But it was during
the 20th century when the Russians really rose to
power in the creation and performance of classical
With the breakdown of the empire and a new hope for
economic and political freedom provided by the Bolsheviks,
Russian composers had a new vibrant voice that was
all their own. Of course, this hope turned into the
despair of communism. Alongside this history of collapsed
monarchies and rebellious tyrants is a music that
emotes the human condition in such turbulent times.
Igor Stravinsky became an expatriate of his Russian
homeland to seek better pastures in the artistic
world, namely Paris and the United States. A mystifying
and most influential character, Stravinsky journeyed
through all of music history to extrapolate forms,
harmonies and structures as bases for his compositional
Among his voluminous body of work is his Suite Italienne.
This six-movement piece uses baroque dance forms
such as the gavotte, minuet and tarantella to lie
out a uniquely crafted work that pays homage to the
composers of yester-century. Brey and O’Riley
rendered an exciting balance between foreground and
background throughout this Neo-Baroque work.
In the serenata movement, Brey exuded great confidence
without sacrificing the delicate beauty of the melody.
Just when the piece seemed to be a simple statement
of an archaic sound, Brey and O’Riley busted
into the tour de force Scherzino movement. Brey and
O’Riley played through this tornado of technique
as if commanding Stravinsky himself to make it more
The last movement, Menuetto e finale, which exists
in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, contained
more complex harmonies that are more associative
with Stravinsky’s works in general. Brey displayed
his dexterity by switching between edgy pizzicatos
and long, melodious bow strokes. This move further
emphasized the bipolar nature of this piece and the
work in general. Bipolar, that is, in the sense that
the piece sounds strangely Baroque and then unusually
Unlike Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich never left
Russia. Yet the auspices of Russian tyranny never
thwarted the creative output of this composer. Yes,
he feared for his life and the reaction to his cynical
and sarcastic music, but he remained true to his
craft. One of the most played recital pieces is his
Sonata in D minor, Op. 40, for piano and cello. This
piece allowed the musicality of the Brey-O’Riley
duo to shine through. Throughout this work, one could
get a sense of the cohesive nature of the performers’ goals,
which is a difficult task, considering the fact that
both are in-demand soloists. The languidness, sarcasm
and beauty of this work came about through a group
effort. Brey would come in the foreground when necessary,
likewise with O’Riley. At times, the dynamics
and articulations were so in sync that it seemed
as if only one instrument were playing.
The concert was brought to an end by the performance
of the most popular Russian of them all: Serge Rachmaninoff.
Despite the dramatic shifts in musical composition
in the 20th century, Rachmaninoff remained a man
misplaced—a Romantic composer and piano virtuoso.
His technical capability was a ubiquitous presence
in his Sonata in G minor, Op. 19. Brey and O’Riley
finally had the opportunity to show the audience
that they possessed the palpable and technical capacity
to play difficult music. On stage at that moment,
I saw two virtuosos fighting for power.
This battle to be the more skilled and dominant performer
wasn’t necessarily due to the performance,
but the music itself. So if Rachmaninoff wanted to
illustrate the battle within oneself, it was definitely
shown by Brey and O’Riley—so much, in
fact, that if felt like they were striving too hard
to make the music dramatic.
The Andante, for example, is a section where the
cello and the piano are playing a loud, low note
together that builds more tension to lead to the
restatement of the melody. The energy and effort
used to create this drama came off as melodramatic
and contradicted the beauty that could have transpired.
But Rachmaninoff often wrote in such over-the-top
fashion and the performers were probably just trying
to stay true to this tradition.
This concert provided a unique perspective on a genre
that has influenced so many present and past composers.
It also showed the devotion and respect that professional
performers have for an often-overlooked genre within
classical music: Russian music. In spite of the small
audience, Brey and O’Riley played as if the
whole concert hall was full of enthusiastic music
lovers. Their passion and enthusiasm for their craft
was an inspiration and made me forget, albeit briefly,
about my disgruntled attitude surrounding the public’s
general antipathy toward classical music.